Sustainable farming

A variety of issues have surfaced amongst global food businesses more prominently in recent years. These include food scandals, tightening regulatory and investor concerns on welfare and food safety and consumer interest in issues of food quality, safety, provenance and traceability. This has led to growing attention on the issue of farm animal welfare and the fragility of the food systems we rely on to feed a growing global population.

Efficiency and economic and environmental sustainability lie at the heart of Waitrose's agriculture strategy and our Farming Partnership. This partnership consists of three groups of suppliers whose objective is to future-proof farming businesses – The Agronomy Group, The Livestock Steering Group and The Fish Forum. Each group is tasked with implementing programmes that contribute to a more sustainable future for UK farms and elsewhere. Find out more about our approach to responsible aquaculture.

Aerial shot of field being harvested

Waitrose Farm Assessment

At the core of our work on improving sustainable production in fresh produce is the Waitrose Farm Assessment (WFA). This initiative began in 2011 and is led by our Agronomy Group. The WFA is a detailed survey conducted on farms, by trained suppliers. It identifies key areas and opportunities for improvement, which drives research and continuous improvement - engaging, supporting and learning from our suppliers and growers on a range of topics such as water use, biodiversity, waste, energy and carbon.

One of the ways in which we reward leading farms and share best practice is through our Demonstration Farm scheme where we award winners in each assessment category every year. College Farm in Cambridgeshire won Demonstration Farm status in 2014 and since then the findings of the Waitrose Farm Assessment has enabled them to put in place measures to reduce inputs, improve soil condition, manage water responsibly, dispose of waste appropriately, and optimise pest and weed control. 

Inside green house with salad crops growing
We have extended the length of British seasons through various methods such as protected cropping and improved plant variety

Stabilising supply through British sourcing

Climatic uncertainty has placed pressure on our farmers to become increasingly agile in response to changes in weather patterns and so we are undertaking a number of initiatives to reduce supply chain vulnerability.

A key success of the past few years has been to extend the length of British seasons through various methods such as protected cropping and improved plant variety. This not only stabilises growing conditions but reduces our reliance on imports. For example, since 2012 we have extended the British strawberry season so that we can now sell British strawberries earlier in the summer and throughout the Christmas period. In addition, salad crops cultivated in vast state-of-the-art greenhouses under LED lights are providing us with a secure, year-round supply of home-grown leaves without the reliance on imports.

Close up of bee on wildflower

Supporting the next generation of experts

We want to help create future generations of experts in sustainable farming. Alongside the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), we are co-sponsoring 15 students' research projects on issues identified by our Farm Assessment.

Last year the Waitrose Agronomy Group sponsored seven. For example, Megan McKerchar of the University of Worcester examined the use of wildflowers to increase the number and diversity of pollinators and natural pest predators, reducing the need for chemical pesticides and naturally increasing yields for farmers.

In partnership with Lancaster University we have also created a Masters programme on the 'food challenges of the 21st Century'.  The course currently has 60 students enrolled and aims to equip them with the knowledge to deal with increasing food demand from a growing global population.

Cattle grazing on grass

The Responsible Efficient Production Index

The Responsible Efficient Production (REP) Index was launched in 2014 by the Waitrose Farming Partnership along with our academic partners at Aberystwyth University. It was developed in response to the need to promote welfare and sustainable agricultural practices which produce nutritious and safe food. Similar to the Waitrose Farm Assessment for fresh produce, the Index assesses performance at a farm level. Over the past year our independent panel has been evaluating the criteria and scoring system to ensure continuous improvement.

Over 50% of the livestock farms that supply Waitrose participated in our most recent pilot study. This gives farmers an opportunity to make improvements, and also allows the supply chain to see any overall weaknesses. We can then offer support on a larger scale and where necessary make changes to our production policies. Going forward we aim to carry out REP biannually so that progress can be monitored.

Waitrose has worked with our strategic partner, Dalehead to help implement our Responsible Sourcing Code of Practice (PDF 272KB) in Waitrose livestock supply chains for the first time. Find out more about how we are addressing the most salient human rights issues in the supply chains of the products we buy and sell across John Lewis and Waitrose in our Human Rights report.